Friday Feature: America the beautiful

It’s the 4th of July; the perfect day to look back at the role America has played in Korean dramas.

Exile


In some K-dramas, a trip to the US is equivalent to being thrown on the family trash heap. In “The Heirs”, unwanted and illegitimate younger son Kim Tan is sent away to America to pave the way for his older brother to be crowned as the family heir. In “Rooftop Prince”, Park Ha initially lives in the US, but returns to Korea to reconnect with her family. Sadly, her stepsister hates her so much that she finally pays her off to return to the US. “Angel Eyes” features a similar story, in that when Park Dong Joo returns to Korea, Dong Joo’s father figure goes so far as to buy him a ticket back, telling him his place is in America.

Exile to the US is never a one-way trip, however, and everyone either avoids going or inevitably returns. Park Ha never even gets as far as booking a ticket, and Dong Joo practically turns around right after landing. As for Kim Tan, his return to Korea is the impetus for the rest of the series, but given the contrast between his carefree, surf-and-sun lifestyle in America, and the endless weeping he faces in Korea, it’s hard to see why he doesn’t just give in and go back. (On a side note, I did find it funny that there appeared to be no other Koreans in Los Angeles.) – Only 만

Education


What better place for your child to get an education than in the United States? This is especially true for children of the rich. The two leads in “Shining Inheritance” return prematurely to Korea from studies in the United States. Go Eun Sung’s temporary stay in Korea becomes permanent after the death of her father leaves her impoverished. Sunwoo Hwan was summoned home by his grandmother to learn the family business. By the end, Eun Sung returns to the US to resume her studies, and Hwan responsibly stays in Korea to work for his grandmother.

After graduation, American educated chaebols return home to the high paying positions that their education and connections entitle them to. In “Baby Faced Beauty”, Kang Yoon Seo, the American-educated daughter of a company senior manager returns to Korea, and immediately assumes a team manager position. Unfortunately, neither money nor education can get the man she loves to prefer her to the badly educated heroine who is the bane of her existence.

Of course, not everyone benefits from an American education. Cha Chi Soo returns to Korea at the beginning of “Flower Boy Ramen Shop” after spending three years in a Manhattan boarding school. When his father threatens to send him back, Chi Soo relays the horror of having to speak and learn English; he had assumed that English fluency would come naturally. In the end, Daddy gives in, and Chi Soo is free to be derelict in his studies in Korea. – Junggugeo Kaenada 중국어 캐나다

Transformation


Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, K-drama characters return from America having become different people. In “City Hunter”, the shiftless Poo Chai goes to the US from Thailand, and after several years returns to Korea as John Lee, a PhD computer engineer who is hired as a computer security consultant by the Blue House. Of course, he’s only there to exact his revenge on the men that ordered his father’s death, but he couldn’t have done it without transforming himself in America.

In “I Need Romance 3”, Joo Wan leaves for the US as a 9 year old boy. He returns after 17 years in order to woo his former babysitter, having transformed into superstar DJ Allen Joo. Unfortunately, she doesn’t recognize him as the same kid, and ends up falling for his new look, only to be horrified when he reveals his true identity.

In “Angel Eyes”, Park Dong Joo goes off to America as a newly orphaned teen, only to return years later as Dylan Park, a genius doctor who takes over the ER of his hometown hospital. In this case, the transformation is so extreme he’s even played by a different actor. –

Career Opportunity


America is reputedly the land of opportunity, and this is backed up by K-dramas. In “Greatest Love”, Dokko Jin is a big Korean movie star, but his desire to break into Hollywood leads him to send a bottle of wine to a famous American director in a bid to win a starring role in his movie. Shared knowledge of this shameful bribe becomes the basis of his relationship with the female lead.

More often, a character is torn between love in Korea and professional opportunity in the US. In “Dal Ja’s Spring”, Shin Se Do must choose between the work colleague he impregnated and the rare opportunity to get an education in the US fully funded by his company.

Two characters in “First Shop of Coffee Prince”, Choi Han Gyul and Han Yoo Joo found professional success in the United States. Han Gyul is forced to return to Korea by his grandmother to take some part in the family business. By the time he is given permission to return to the US and given the opportunity to do so, Han Gyul is held back by love for a girl as well as his family. Yoo Joo’s return to Korea is prompted by a desire to rekindle a relationship with her ex-boyfriend. After their relationship sours, she claims that a job opportunity from a former love is the reason for her return to the US, but the entire situation is completely unprofessional.

Acclaimed doctor, Sim Ji Hye returns to Korea for her former love, Kook Cheon Soo in “Emergency Couple”. In the end, Ji Hye is compelled to return to the US for both personal and professional reasons. It would appear that Ji Hye’s single mother status is more readily accepted in the US. So, while Cheon Soo encourages her to return to Korea, he should probably consider joining Ji Hye in the land of the free, home of the brave. – 중국어 캐나다

The American


Based on K-dramas, one can assume that Americans are unilingual, overly friendly, and bad actors. Dr. Henry Kim of “My Lovely Sam Soon” is introduced to viewers dunking a basketball and freely expressing his feelings, like a typical American. In Korea, Henry speaks practically no Korean, smiles a lot, and is physically affectionate with the secondary lead female, much to the chagrin of the male lead. Playing Henry, Daniel Henney is believable as a head turner, but otherwise, comes across as a bystander who wandered onto the set.

In “Dream High”, exchange student, Jason’s friendly American ways get him in trouble when an overweight classmate mistakes his kindness for affection. Jason is actually played by non-American and non-actor, Jang Woo Young, so his English is as awkward as his acting.

During his exile in the US, Kim Tan hangs out with surfers including Jay, a flaxen hair doofus with a bean allergy. The allergy becomes an issue after Jay attempts to snort the female lead’s Korean bean powder, thinking it was a bag of drugs. When Jay is not grabbing the female lead, who he calls his angel, tanned California girls in bikinis are getting touchy feely with Kim Tan. It is a wonder that Kim Tan ever wanted to leave the US. – 중국어 캐나다


Readers: what Korean drama had you dreaming about the star-spangled banner?

We’re Canadian, but feel free to Comment below.


13 Comments

  1. Can you name a drama where an American has been protrayed by a decent actor? I always cringe at the American “actors” in kdramas. Stilted delivery of lines and stiffness seem to be reqiurements in casting.

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  2. “American” actors in kdramas… sometimes they have like Russians (at least from what I can tell from the accent) play the so-called Americans in the drama, lol.

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      1. true, but it seems like if you wanted viewers of a drama to think “Ah, Americans”, you’d choose more of a stereotypical American accent 😛

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      2. Agreed. I just watched the second episode of “Fated to Love You”, and it had an American with an American accent. But, the delivery was so unnatural that I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be an alien.

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  3. I recall watching Bottom of the 9th 2 Outs and was like wow, they have cast an African American, yayfor diversity. I often think k drama casting people just say hey look a random white person, good enough to portray an American, no matter if they are French or Russian or whatever. Kind of like oh say how Americans cast any Asian to portray any Asian? We can crit Korea, but your know, the West, especially the U.S. is notorious for such behavior. The exaggerated enunciation of English in k drama seems to be standard. It’s not that people really speak this way, but that they are instructed to do so. it is likely required so that Korean people may understand it better. The odd unnatural cadence is also likely due to this. Even Philip Lee, who is American Korean and American is a native language to him, spoke in this manner in Secret Garden. my 2 cents anyway.

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    1. It’s weird, because even when the English is grammatically correct, their inflection is unnatural. In the “Fated to Love You” episode where Se Ra gets a call from the American ballet company, the guy telling her to return sounds like a complete weirdo.

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